Behind a trending ‘green horse’ plushie produced by a Chinese museum was design team wanting to narrow distance between cultural relics and the younger generation
Published: Sep 05, 2022 08:33 PM

"Green horse" plushies in Gansu Provincial Museum. Photo: VCG

This past summer, a pea-colored, BoJack-look museum-produced horse plushie went viral on the Chinese internet. 

The "green horse," featuring a national-treasure bronze horse statue of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 AD), has not only become a new star in the already competitive museum cultural products market in China, but also managed to connect different versions of cultural heritage with young Chinese people, according to the head of the design team at the Gansu Provincial Museum in Northwest China.

Recently, as a follow-up product, a Lego-style brick toy of the bronze horse was also released by the Gansu museum, attracting young people's attention.

According to data from the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, more than 124,000 types of cultural and creative products were developed in museums across the country in 2020, generating an actual revenue of over 1.1 billion yuan ($160 million). 

Young people are the main consumers of these products. 

"For each museum, it is our own power. But together, around China, we design teams are combining our powers toward the same goal; that is to promote the excellent culture and history of China and allow more young people to access such culture," Cui Youxin, head of the Cultural and Creative Center in the Gansu Provincial Museum, told the Global Times.

New look of the antique

"Bronze Galloping Horse Treading on a Flying Swallow" of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 AD). Photo: VCG

"I fell in love with it from when I first saw it," said Hu Yumi, an office worker in Beijing who could not hide her affection for the "green horse."

After laughing to the picture of the funny horse for several minutes, she ordered a large-size plushie online which was soon delivered. 

She brought the plushie out to a café to show it off, capturing the attention of numerous passers-by. "Some people came to me and asked for a selfie with the horse," she told the Global Times.

The original prototype is acknowledged by every Chinese person. It is known as the "Bronze Galloping Horse Treading on a Flying Swallow" and is the "China Tourism" logo.  In the Chinese language text book for primary school students, there exists a passage which elaborates just how romantic and artistic their Chinese ancients were for creating such a beautiful masterpiece. 

The cultural relic was found in the Leitai Tomb from the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 AD) in the 1960s in Wuwei and is now preserved at the Gansu Provincial Museum, Xinhua News Agency reported.

But more than 2,000 years after it was produced, the bronze horse and the swallow beneath it have gained new traction among China's youth in an unexpected way.

Not only is it because the phrase "green horse" in Chinese sounds similar to "green health code," which means safety during the COVID-19 epidemic, but also, the new joyful cartoon image of the horse is deeply entertaining and soothing to the younger generation. 

"We actually started with green horse cartoon stickers while chatting online in 2021," Cui said. "But what really became very popular was the plushie."

This plushie hit shelves on June 26. Several clips on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, instantly went viral. By the second day, the e-shop owned by the Gansu museum had sold 6,000 units of the green horse plushie.

According to Cui, so far, in three months, more than 100,000 green horse plushies have been flown to the countless places across the country.

She noted that the popularity of the green horse plushie also brought more exposure to the museum. The number of visitors almost doubled in the summer. And the number of the subscribers to the museums social media platforms saw a rocket jump.

Moreover, the hotels and homestays were also booked out around the museum this summer, suggesting that the green horse has spurred local tourism, Cui said.

A young team behind

In order to bring the bronze horse closer to the public, the Cultural and Creative Team at Gansu museum has launched the "god horse is arriving" IP in 2020. In recent years, the team developed more than 30 cultural and creative products based on the bronze galloping horse, including fashionable earrings, magnets, facial masks, keychains, notebooks, and more. But no one expected that this time the "green horse" doll would be one of the hottest trending topics.

"People believe our design of the bronze horse is bold and creative. We wanted to make it even much funnier, so we designed the plushie," Cui said.

Talking about why the green horse could be so loved by the younger generation, Cui said that a key attribute of the product is that it might increase interpersonal interactions people's lives. "When a young person finds it, they may feel happy and is eager to share it with their friends. This is how the green horse product is spreading among the younger generation, like a fission of information," Cui said.

"Secondly, it's a welcome distraction for young people from their busy and high-pressure lives,  because it is artistic and comical," she said.

The designers who want to "heal" others are also young people, most in their 20s. "We are a very professional design team, with around 40 members," Cui introduced. "Through one cultural and creative product, we could not only influence cultural lovers, but also people in the whole society, sparking their interests," she said.

"Spreading the culture and finding a way to connect culture and the young generation are our tasks," she concluded.